Chapter XXXVII: Darlene
Chapter XXXVIII: Splitting Decisions
Chapter XXXIX: Up the Mountain


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As she expected, numerous objections arose against her decision when Vex outlined her current plan of action to the group in the kitchen. Even the newest member of their little posse, Darlene, felt the need to be heard on the subject.

“Shouldn’t we be exploring the violin bow sent back with me by Chief Tall Trees?” she said. “It really think that it’s important. You said it yourself earlier, I’m definitely connected to all of this. How can all of us sitting around on our hands, doing nothing be helpful?”

“We’re part of this whether you like it or not,” Megan said.

“You’re amateurs,” Vex said. “Not only will you get yourselves killed, you’ll get someone else killed. And you—.” She looked directly at Darlene. “When I figure out what I need you for, and your place I all of this, I’ll let you know. Until then, I really don’t want you in the sights of whatever is out there. Here, you’re hidden. If I’m right, you do have a part in this… I take you with me where I’m going and all sorts of hell will come after you.”

“Vex,” Nathan said, folding his arms. “I know that you feel passionately about this, but from the stuff that I’ve seen over the past few days, I’m uncomfortable with you heading out on your own.” He put up a silencing hand when he saw her expression change. “Hear me out. I know we’ve been ganging up on you recently, but it’s because you’ve been leading this thing from day one. The way you always do.

“Back in high school when our friends were in deep trouble, you were the first on the scene to save them—and you kept shutting me out. Of course, now I know there were good reasons for that. Still I’d like to think that with all the time that we’ve spent together I’ve learned a great deal about the things we’re up against—and the things you are.”

Nathan kept his gaze level and his tone direct, but Vex could tell that he was trying to hint at something. Unlike everyone else in the room, she and Nathan went way back in their history, and he could sense she knew something she wasn’t letting onto. Even after high school, during his early college years, he never fully comprehended her connection to the supernatural, especially the presence of the voices. He was trying to get her to open up to the rest of the group and let everyone know exactly why she wanted to go or maybe he wanted to make sure there weren’t other motives for her departure.

Whatever the case, his message felt mixed. Nathan was a good friend, and he deserved to know what she knew, but she wouldn’t know the validity of her suspicions until she confronted them directly.

Vex decided to ignore him pointedly.

“I want you all to stay here while I’m out; nobody knows what’s at stake.”

She opened the fridge and pulled out a pair of chilled witch bottles she’d prepared specifically for situations similar to this—a potent magickal item used to attract and trap malicious arcane energies directed at the possessor. These particular witch bottles followed a recipe thought up by a Catholic inquisitor, Robert Bellarmine, modified to fit more contemporary understanding of their usage. The priest, though a product of his time, must have stumbled on very old manuscripts on the creation of powerful sympathetic wards; but didn’t fully understand their implications, creating instead an object that a Voodoo priest would have enjoyed using nail clippings, urine, and hair from the person the bottle intended to ward against. Vex, on the other hand, discovered that the witch bottle could be used as a dampening field by connecting it to the place where it was to be used. All she would need to arm them would be some dirt or lint.

A hand touched her arm as she pulled her brass knuckles from the shelf above the television and stuffed them into her pockets—she turned, it was Patrick. She allowed herself a tight smile, until she saw the butt of his handgun extending from his other hand.

“This is the one loaded with magic bullets,” he said. “I know you may not need them, but they sure did us a good one last time.”

The rest of the room drooped in a sullen silence. Darlene hunched over the table, frowning, Megan’s unreadable expression reflected from the picture frame in the kitchen, and Nathan rolled his eyes. A gesture that Vex had long understood meant something akin to, “I give up.”

She pursed her lips and pushed Patrick’s hand—and the gun—away.

“You can give it to me when I get back, but for now; it’s in better hands if you keep it.” She reached up and pulled on one of the chains around her neck, the silver links slid against her skin until they withdrew the attached metal dogtags from her shirt. “Until then, I’ve already got a part of you with me.”

“You should really be taking us with you,” Megan said.

Vex raised her voice. “My apartment is a safe place. Stay here and you’ll be fine. Watch TV. If the news doesn’t convince you to stay indoors, then there’s no saving you from yourselves.”


Mêlée sprinted across the street, hunkering low; the security guard behind her shambled after her with an uncanny speed for his obvious weight. Her knuckles whitened with her grip on the spray paint can. Scraping rocks worked better, but spray paint would do when removing the drawings of the centipedes from walls and sidewalks. The sinister smell evaporated either way.

The sidewalks seemed empty of people—cars clogged the streets, but nobody wanted to venture into the extreme heat; nobody except the street rats pressed into service by Mêlée to destroy the glyphs they found. Yet the messed-up people still managed to find her every time she tagged out one of the markings. She’d passed her third one and erased it with the neon pink paint when another one rounded the corner and charged after her.

He wore a purple ProGuard uniform, but there was no disguising the lack of emotion in his facial expression. She’d met almost six of them today already including a businessman wearing a fancy suit, an old man missing his dentures, and a round motherly woman still carrying her purse even though all the contents had been spilled out. They all had one thing in common: they were all hollow.

She nimbly dodged his clumsy tackle by darting around a corner. She could have run a lot faster if she needed, but she wanted him to follow.

Around the corner, the security guard met Amish, Carcass, and two baseball bats.

The takedown went swift and surgical. The guard rounded the corner and then ate pavement. Bats poised, the two street rats waited and watched for almost a full minute. Nobody spoke until they decided that the hollow man wasn’t going to move.

Amish glanced over at Mêlée.

“Do you recognize him?”


“Leave him.”

Together, the three melted into the cluster of buildings and headed back towards Graffiti Shop—the impromptu base of operations.

“It’s getting worse,” Carcass said. He had tossed off his normal heavy black denim jacket for a soiled white shirt. Mêlée could feel the heat on her skin herself, even with the sun almost entirely below the horizon. “I just heard that a couple more kids have gone missing. Do you think it’s these people?”

“I think they’re becoming these people,” Mêlée said.

“Everyone’s nightmare is coming true,” Amish said, adjusting the dune goggles on his forehead. “Well, if you want to believe them. Do you know how many people have packed up their stuff and left town? And now this.”

“Any luck getting a hold of that friend of yours? The one in my dream.”

“Harrow?” Amish asked, brushing hair away from his goggles to peer into the pedestrian empty street, between idling cars. “No. I haven’t seen her since earlier in the week—well, except for that last dream.”

Nods went around the small group, mentioning the dreams had become a sore conversation point amid the street rats. That and the fires.

“Isn’t she that one gothic chick? How can she help?” Carcass said. “Isn’t she a Satanist or something?”

“She’s not a Satanist,” Mêlée said.

“How do you know?”

“She told me so.”

Carcass shook his head and furtively glanced around the edge of a brick wall towards the street. Amish and Mêlée stayed behind him.

“You may not know her, but she’s helped us before.” Amish said.

Carcass waved them around the wall as he stepped out. “Things like this?”

“Well, not quite.” Amish followed, keeping an eye out for movement.

“Let’s just take this show indoors. The sky is making me feel nervous.”

Even with his mention of the darkening sky, nobody wanted to look. Above them something watched—they could feel its gaze on the back of their necks. Perhaps, Mêlée mused, this was how the hollow people kept finding her.


The news painted a grim portrait of a city gripped by mass hysteria and terror. Fires more numerous than could be accurately portrayed on a map of the Valley had begun cropping up even earlier in the day while they were out at the ruins. As the heat of the day wore on, electrical grids through the urban waste intermittently sputtered and failed, leaving numerous people without A/C. Residential districts, retail malls, warehouses—the random fires did not spare any type of development as they sparked like wildly sewn seeds, blossoming into hungry infernos.

The news program displayed sanitized graphics of the distribution of fires interspersed with the real thing, cute little flame symbols inside of target reticules hovering over a brown and grey map of Phoenix metro. It made the whole affair seem like a strange game. More appeared as the news anchor gesticulated and spoke mutely about a cluster of flame symbols near Metrocenter. After half-an-hour of watching the news everyone in the apartment had unanimously agreed that sound wasn’t necessary and had become a bit depressing.

Even silent, the images displaying on the TV disturbed Megan. In the reflection, she could see Tiffany sitting on the couch next to her—literally on the edge of her seat—staring acutely at the shaky videos taken from helicopters of burning buildings; that imagery juxtaposed black smoke against the ruddy glow of roaring fires against the current twilight backdrop. The ghostly girl glanced over at the table where Patrick and Nathan sipped anxiously at glasses of water while Darlene drew diagrams on bits of paper describing the ritual and the symbols that had been used in the incident at the library.

Megan wished she could do something to contribute to the whole situation, but little she could think of would have been helpful.

Darlene huffed an exasperated sigh and dropped her pencil on the table.

“I feel like I could be doing more,” Darlene said. “Why does she want me to focus on this anyway?” She gestured towards the violin bow. “The People sent me back with this, and I’m pretty sure it means something. You know, I have a violin back in my dorm room… I could go and get it and I’d have something I can use.”

“Dude, I totally don’t like being cloistered here either,” Megan said. “Except, Vex actually seems to know what she’s doing and I don’t. Still, if everyone is going out, I’m coming with. I feel like a fifth wheel right now.”

Plus, I’m sick of being cooped up in this place,” Tiffany griped from the TV screen.

“She told us to stay put,” Patrick said. “And I’m inclined to follow that recommendation. You saw the message at the bottom of the screen earlier. People have been sighting those centipede things. What if we run into one?”

That brought a sudden quiet to the conversation. Shortly after Vex had locked the door behind her, and the TV was switched on, messages about UFO and monster sightings had been scrolling at the bottom of the FOX News broadcast. One channel even went so far as to post an Emergency Broadcast Message about a possible chemical introduced into the air by one of the numerous fires—but from Patrick’s description, what people were seeing certainly fit the encounter he had with the godfrag. Wholesale disappearances of people were also still on the rise, but the heat and the fires had taken grip of the news stations and it was all they felt the need to report on; everything else appeared as text blurbs on the screen or scrolled past in the “recent news” ticker beneath the talking heads.

The news anchors were dismissing the sightings of monsters as heat delirium and even had experts on to talk about the effects of increased temperatures on the community. Everyone in the apartment knew too well that something big was happening. Something big and bad.

“Really,” Darlene said. “I can’t just sit here. I guess you guys know her better than I do—but is this really what we want to be doing? I feel like I’ve been charged with something to do. If something I did started all of this, I should be part of fixing it. Shouldn’t I? If I have to, I’ll go on my own.”

Patrick sat up straighter in his chair. “I can’t let you go out there by yourself.”

“Then come with me,” Darlene said, standing up. “I hear you have a gun that can blow holes in those things. It’s not as if we’re totally defenseless.”

“I’ll go with her,” Nathan said. “My car is parked just a few blocks away in the pay lot.”

He rose and grabbed his jacket from where it lay over one of the many chairs in the room. Keys jingled in his hand as he shrugged it on, ringing loud in the room where conversation had suddenly gone silent. Megan watched Patrick, an emotion crossed his lips as if he was deciding whether or not to stop Nathan and Darlene.

“My jeep is closer,” he said.

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